The educated Tanguero

Essential Tango Knowledge

La Cumparsita


La Cumparsita

No other tango in History has led to so much confusion and arguments. Everybody loves it, almost every Tango orchestra has played a version and it is played almost at all Milongas who stick to the traditional Argentinean codices. Again this little song started not as a Tango.


Cumparsita Partitura

It was composed in 1916 by the Uruguayan musician Gerardo Hernan “Becho” Matos Rodriguez (a 17 year old architecture student) in Montevideo as a carnival march for the marching band of the federation of students of Uruguay [1, 2]. Gerardo showed the music to orchestra leader Roberto Firpo, who played at the café “La Giralda” in Montevideo and Firpo agreed to play it as a Tango [1]. He added a third part from one of his own Tangos (“La gaucha Manuela”) and also a small part of the Verdi song Miserere from Il Trovatore [1]. He played the song that night with great success together with “Bachicha” Deambroggio and “Tito” Roccataggliatta. In the same year, he recorded the song for Odeon Records onto a B side of a 78rpm record, without success, so the song was forgotten until Pascual Contursi wrote the lyrics in 1924 [1]. The song was a big hit, recorded by Contursi and given the name “Si supieras” [1]. This finally started a lawsuit with Gerardo Rodriguez which was ended by an agreement formulated by Francisco Canaro in 1948, which re-established the title “La Cumparsita” and also established Contursi´s lyrics (and a split of loyalties on a 20 to 80 basis) [1,2,4]. In the same year (1924) Gardel recorded the song with great success in Buenos Aires and 1928 in Barcelona [2]. Other famous recordings are from Juan D´Arienzo (6 renditions), Piazzolla (4 renditions) and Alberto Mancione, who´s record of 1952 was awarded as the best version of that song.
I would like to mention that “La Cumparsita” was not the only tango of Gerardo Rodriguez. He was composer of other well known tangos like “Che papusa, oi!”, “Adios Argentina”, “Mocosita”, just to mention some of them. Interestingly, he worked some time as Uruguayan Consul in Germany [3].
The original lyrics can be found here [4]. These are the lyrics of “La Cumparsita” in the version of P.Contursi:

Si supieras,
que aún dentro de mi alma,
conservo aquel cariño
que tuve para ti…
Quién sabe si supieras
que nunca te he olvidado,
volviendo a tu pasado
te acordarás de mí…
Los amigos ya no vienen
ni siquiera a visitarme,
nadie quiere consolarme
en mi aflicción…
Desde el día que te fuiste
siento angustias en mi pecho,
decí, percanta, ¿qué has hecho
de mi pobre corazón?
Sin embargo,
yo siempre te recuerdo
con el cariño santo
que tuve para ti.
Y estás en todas partes,
pedazo de mi vida,
y aquellos ojos que fueron mi alegría
los busco por todas partes
y no los puedo hallar.
Al cotorro abandonado
ya ni el sol de la mañana
asoma por la ventana
como cuando estabas vos,
y aquel perrito compañero,
que por tu ausencia no comía,
al verme solo el otro día
también me dejó…

Here the English translation [5]:

If you realised,
that still inside my soul,
I uphold that affection
I had for you…
Who knows if you realised
that I haven’t forgotten you ever,
when turning back to your past
if you think of me…
Friends no longer come
not even for a visit,
nobody wants to console me
in my affliction…
From the day you left
I feel anguish in my chest,
tell me, darling, “what have you done
to my poor heart?”
I always remember you
with the divine affection
I had for you.
And you are everywhere,
part of my life,
and those eyes that were my joy
I look for them everywhere
and I can’t find them.
In the abandoned flatlet
not even the morning sun
peeks through the window
as it did when you were here,
and that companion puppy,
that didn’t eat in your absence,
upon seeing me alone the other day
it also left me.

Oops, a real sad song, a true Contursi experience!
I mentioned that many different orchestras have played “La Cumparsita”. A CD with 20 different versions of La Cumparsita was released by EMI (CD “La Cumparsita, veinte veces inmortal”).
In my collection I have around 100+ different versions (I can´t really calculate because there are many duplicates).
Apart from the lawsuit between Rodriguez and Contursi, other scandals happened. F.e. in 2000 at the Olympic Games in Sydney, the Argentinean team marched in to “La Cumparsita”, which created protests and official claimes from the Uruguayan government. Actually “La Cumparsita was named cultural and popular anthem of Uruguay by law in 1997 [1].

Here some videos, starting with the Gardel song, the orchestra version of Juan D´Arienzo, Piazzollas record from 1957 and finally the 1952 version of Mancione:

Now some dances. Starting with Gustavo Naveira and Giselle Anne, one of my favourite Tango couples and of course Chicho and Juana, finally Sebastian Arce and Mariana Montes:

And finally just to salute to a very gifted child, the guitar version of Julio Silpitucla (11 years old):


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